Thursday, April 21, 2011

Primrose Earth Awareness Trust - Quantity and Quality

Steve and I visited PEAT with friends from the Llandrindod course and it turned out to be a really inspiring morning. You can read books and look at websites all you want but there's no substitute for the impact of seeing ideas put into practice out there in a field. PEAT represents 25 years of work by Dr Paul and Jan Benham and apart from anything else is the most productive one and a half acre plot in the UK. The garden produces between £25,000 and £30,000 worth of fruit and vegetables a year. As well as quantity they have top quality too, PEAT has received no less than six True Taste of Wales awards for its produce and supplies the top end local hotel and restaurant trade, especially with salad crops. The centre is on the edge of the village of Felindre, just five miles from Hay on Wye.
That's the friendly figure of Paul front-right wearing the white shirt and green scarf

It might look a bit ramshackle here and there...

...but Paul is a master of re-using stuff and getting a lot out of a small budget. The garden plot at PEAT is the most productive 1.5 acres in the UK.
Densely packed beds in between abundant poly-tunnels
Ingenuity: cast-off fridge feezers used as plant propagators with incandescent 40w bulbs as heat sources.

One of several polytunnels - well stocked for April
 The beds are a densely packed system developed over the last 25 years and the polytunnels were in full production even in April. The plot has mostly been worked just by Paul and his wife Jan with the help of two WOOFERS in the growing and hearvesting seasons and without the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. It was really good to see so much space given over to forest gardening methods, some of it established over 25 years. There's different densities of forest gardening at PEAT and its very interesting to see how the forest areas fit in with the beds and polytunnels. I'm convinced that Forest Gardening has the potential to help many people in cities as well as out in the countryside so have started a separate page for that: Forest Gardening Page.

Roundhouse at PEAT with beautiful thatched roof.
There's lots of interesting buildings at PEAT including the roundhouse above and the earth-sheletered building below which is the regular home for two wwoofers. I didn't get a photo of another building, the "Sound Peace Chamber", which is built on an ancient sacred site and where Paul holds meetings timed with other similar buildings in different parts of the world. I hope to find out more about this work as it ties in with what I have been thinking and practising myself in the area of global communication and consciousness - learning to live with the Earth rather than on the Earth, learning to be part of a regenisis of bio-diversity rather than trampling out all life on the planet by continuing on our mad chemico-agrico path towards mass extinction.
Earth-sheltered woofer home

A pear tree with its fruit just set.
I loved this area for the variety it has on the go - well possible on the home gardening or allotment scale.
There's many areas of  forest garden at PEAT, this is the longest established one.
 As well as exploring Sound Healing for people, another area I'd like to explore more, Paul has been experimenting with treating plants with precise frequencies from tuning forks and has found that this can help to keep them healthy. Much more on the PEAT website, including details of courses and guided tours as well as many ideas about making the transition to sustainable food supply - do visit PEAT if you're in the area, I bet you'll find it inspiring too.
Sunday 8th May 2011 - Seasonal Sounds: connecting with the energy of Spring time with sound.
15th - 17th July - Sound Healing with Nature: experiencing sound healing and the healing sense of belonging in nature.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

"The Biochar Solution" by Albert Bates

What an amazing book!
This is a really good read as well as being packed full of hopeful practical ideas and solutions for world problems. There's fascinating insights about soil, chemical agriculture, climate change, the sustainable abundant forest and carbon sequestration, all backed up with references to appropriate research papers.
Albert Bates details solutions that are already transforming lives on a small scale and may even have the potential to avert climate catastrophe. When carbon in the form of charcoal is locked up in the soil it can easily stay locked up there for a thousand years and in the soil its multi-micro-pocketed structure makes it a coral reef style habitat for the millions of micro-life forms that are found in healthy soil. Biochar is charcoal that has been impregnated with nitrogen, (you just have to soak it in pee) or bacterial or mycellial cultures and helps to bring back degraded soil.
The Amazon Carbon Store
Part of the book that made my jaw drop a bit deals with the Spanish conquest and eradication of the Amazon people of the 16th century. There may have been as many as 30 million people living in the area at the time and more than 99% of them may have been wiped out, mainly by mutations of the diseases of domesticated animals to which the Europeans were acclimatised - but to which the Native Americans had no immunity...
Jaw-dropping in itself, but the sudden growth of sapling trees afterwards, which incorporate carbon at the highest rate in the trees life, may well have led to the period of global cooling from 1500 to 1750 known as the Little Ice Age.
The Lucia Stove
This is just such a nice story! Nathaniel Mulcahy, an industrial designer of home appliances, injured his spine badly in a fall down a flight of stairs. His life was saved by his dog, Lucia, who supported his head and spine for over five hours until neighbours discovered them and summoned help. Once he had recovered, Mulcahy gave up his job and turned his skills to humanitarian engineering launching the company WorldStove. Their Lucia stove, named after his dog, is a brilliant design which runs on a wide range of biomass waste eg nut shells. The stove burns its fuel very efficiently and without the smoke which is a major health hazard for families who cook on open fires. The charcoal produced by the stove can be charged with compost and used as a soil-improver while also sequestrating carbon. Each time a Lucia stove is used to cook a meal for a family it can produce enough charcoal to filter 10 liters of water. WorldStove helps local communities to set up their own stove companies and the project is changing lives from Burkina Faso to Mongolia.

WorldStove's Lucia model.

Steve and I have both been really impressed with all the ideas and possibilities for biochar and will be doing some experiments with tin cans very soon - you can download plans for a simple stove/charcoal maker, the "EverythingNice Stove" from the WorldStove site.

"The Biochar Solution" is available from New Society Publishers at $17.95.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Florida calling....

I was delighted to get a request to write a guest article for my blog from a college graduate of the University of Central Florida, Krista Peterson. Krista is an aspiring writer and Health and Safety Advocate, she is passionate about the wellness of others in her community and for the health of the environment. She says she uses her writings to spread awareness of such issues to help encourage others everywhere to live the healthiest and most eco-friendly lifestyles possible. Brilliant! I think it's great that more and more people are waking up to the fact we are going to be forced to lead very different lives in the near future. Here's Krista's article:

Students at UCF are helping to develop an array of tools to make the solar panels that make up solar farms easier to install and monitor. UCF News Report,  "Greening the World's Energy" here.
A Primer on Permaculture
With the spring finally springing and the flowers blooming it’s getting to be a lovely time to be outdoors.  This spring, as you make your way outdoors be sure and take a moment to appreciate the beauty of your natural surroundings and consider that unless we make changes to be sure that we have sustainable development it may not be there much longer.  Of course making the change to permaculture and sustainable development is a serious and major commitment, but here are three easy ways to get started!

Eat Local and Organic
While it may be the way of the future, it’s not always possible right now for everyone to make the switch over to co-op farms, where rather than having factories produce food you purchase in supermarkets (yech!) a community bonds together to help raise livestock and plants in a natural, sustainable way.  But most people are able to support these growing sustainable farms by purchasing local organic food through a farmers market or local co-op
Garden and Compost
Of course, another great way to get your food locally is by starting your own garden! Starting a sustainable garden can save you a little green too, even up to $800 dollars a year in food costs. Growing a garden might seem daunting at first but sustainable gardening can be pretty easy, and is a great skill to learn.  And just in case you end up not needing as much food as you grow start you can start a compost!  Every eight months the UK produces enough waste to fill Lake Windermere.  If everyone simply dropped their food scraps, grass clippings, newspaper, cardboard, and coffee grounds into a compost we could dramatically lower the waste you leave behind. 
Natural Building
Natural building is a big part of permaculture because currently our building processes simply are not sustainable.  It can be a large undertaking, but building a house using primarily natural materials like logs seriously lessens your global impact and is likely to be a key facet in human housing in the future.  There are plenty of resources available if you’re up to the challenge of natural building, but if not you can always look into more natural modifications of your current home.  For instance, soy-based insulation foam is far more sustainable and healthier than other types of insulation, and can also protect you from mesothelioma cancer!
While a major culture change towards permaculture definitely ought to be in your plans for the future, these three easy steps can get you started down the path we all need to start walking. It’s time for us to turn away from unnatural, unhealthy manufacturing ways and start examining local natural solutions within our ecosystems.
Thanks Krista! Great stuff, I'm looking forward to reading your own blog once it's up and running. 

Monday, April 04, 2011

Sistine Chapel Shock !!

Recent cleaning of the famous ceiling has revealed that the old familiar scene had actually been painted over this extraordinarily prescient warning:
A Dodo invites Man into the halls of Extinction: note the old master's wonderful brushwork and the delicacy of his treatment of the dodo's luxuriant plummage.

Final Weekend of Llandod Permaculture Design Course

What a journey this course has been! Instead of the usual two-week residential PDC Steve ran this course on a weekend-a-month format. This suited our course hosts, the Llandrindod Wells Transition Town Group much better - Steve will always adapt the course material to accommodate different groups' needs as far as possible.
Looking down to Nannerth Ganol through the beautiful old oaks on the hillside - I wonder how much human nonsense those old oaks have seen passing...?
Over the seven months we often said how much the Llandod course reminded us of The Council of the Elders from Lord of the Rings, partly because much of it was held at Nannerth Ganol, Roz and Brian's restored long house at the head of a beautiful valley. It was easy to feel a connection with the many generations of people who have lived there during the settlement's history - many, many thanks to Roz and Brian for all their hospitality, all the wonderful meals and for the use of their cottage. The course also had a Council of the Elders feel about it because although we had people of all ages, many of the participants have many years' experience from a wide range of working lives. It gives me a lot of hope that these respected, experienced, intelligent, connected people took the time to sit down together and study how we can work with nature to design truly sustainable lives and systems for the future - another big thank you to all the participants, it's been a wonderful experience getting to know you all. I'm looking forward to seeing how all the projects everyone is involved with flourish - not least the house whose re-design was central to the course, Lis and Nick's house, Trosnant.

Steve discussing garden plans with Lis and Nick, Trosnant in the background
Fully-fledged garden design above - the participants came up with excellent, detailed, integrated designs for the house, garden, energy and work systems, for Lis and Nick's contact with the community and with space deliberately kept free for "Wilderness Ideas" or inspiration from the bigger picture.
Unusual but very effective presentation idea from Alan - a box pasted up with permaculture ideas containing a wealth of local resources.
1: Scything Workshop, part of the final weekend. 2: Different blades for scrub and grass.  3: Removing bumps and twists from blade using mini-anvil or "peen". 4: Scything's a bit like Tai Chi...

Now we're getting ready for our next course, a return to Treflach Farm, 8th to 21st May, where it will be fascinating to see how Ian Steele is already incorporating some of the design ideas from our first course there back in October 2010. This is a unique opportunity to get right into the nuts and bolts of food production, energy systems, building bio-diversity, community access to land and much more - places still available - BOOK NOW !!